On Tuesday night at the high school, the annual safe driving evening was presented to approximately 100 students. The air of ease that hung over yet another reminder to be safe received an hour long dose of reality that got everyone's attention.
A short film began the presentation. Certainly there were police officers explaining how a moment's distraction could spell the difference between life, death and disability. There were also grieving parents and friends who survived catastrophic crashes, but providing witness to actual accident scenes said it all.
Mangled bodies encased in wreckage, survivors clinging to a recovery that will never becomplete and a severed arm signifying where the human body stands in comparison to the brute force of physics. While possibly sounding excessive, it simply exhibited what news reports leave out - the human carnage.
The effect was obvious but mercifully the audience got a breather in its introduction to J.C. Good of White Plains. With a slight limp and a posture a little off center, she assured everyone that she still has a great life and wasn't after pity. "I want you to see what it's like to stand inside my shoes," said Good.
Starting off, that was easy. She went to college with hopes of academic achievement but also the shyness of a small town girl. "I was afraid to eat in the school cafeteria," said Good.
She would meet Steve, the love of her life and current fiancé, and achieve those classroom dreams. "Graduation day was the greatest of my life," said Good, 26.
It was also the day a teenager took a cellphone call and ran the distraction through a red light. An 18 wheeler then swerved head on into the car she was in with her parents. The only survivor, the list of injuries sounded more like an entire evening of cases in a typical E/R.
J.C. then enlisted Steve via video to detail the next four months. “I have no memory of that time," Good explained.
Steve heard the news of the crash by phone, and only that J.C. was in the hospital. Waiting in agony, he felt elation in hearing J.C. was in surgery and not just because it meant she was alive. He figured, they’d fix her up and they’d get on with their lives.
Again, there's a contrast to what we envision and the reality of surviving a crash. After learning J.C.’s parents were dead and an 8 hour surgery, he was awakened to the truth. Seeing her head almost twice normal size, he couldn’t believe someone could still be alive in that state.
Eventually she stabilized and regained a semicoherent consciousness for weeks. 45 days later, she spoke and that wasn’t as good as it sounds. "She was convinced I was one of her two brothers named Jared,” Steve remembered.
Before reaching a rehab facility at 60 days, she got it straight and began the long road passed the pain and being able to function. Once home, she started her journey to bring awareness to distracted driving.
Hands free or not, she revealed that cellphone use cuts the brain’s awareness. “You’re not seeing half of what you would normally see,” she said.
Despite the facts, J.C. also found she lived a state with the weakest distracted driving laws so she took to the airwaves and made it onto a local TV station. A year’s worth of activism put her path on par with the UN Secretary General, and his initiative to raise awareness globally.
An international studies major, she said, “meeting Ban ki Moon was like meeting Oprah.”
Of course, eventually appearing on Oprah wasn’t bad either but just because she now lives in a state with very tough laws doesn’t diminish her workload. “ There’s 200,000 tickets written every year here,” she said.
Across the country, it means 15 fatalities daily, which Judge Michael McDermott brought true perspective to. “Driving distracted can lead to your death but usually it’s the innocent person that suffers,” he said.
J.C. is testament to that. Able to work, communicate and love, she cannot deny the pain of losing fine motor use of her fingers and activities like softball and hiking.
Good put the onus on the audience to make the difference. “You’ve got say slow down or I’ll take that text. It could be the difference between being in a wheelchair or something as simple as not having your father to walk you down the aisle,” she concluded.
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